BOLTON, MA — Throughout the course of his tenure at the helm of the Boston Bruins, Claude Julien has learned that there are some things he can control, and there are some things that are out of his hands.
And as he heads into this year’s training camp with some uncertainty surrounding his roster, he is keeping that in mind.
“You just got to move on,” Julien said, speaking for the first time this season at the 11th Annual Bruins Foundation Golf Tournament in Bolton, Mass. “There can’t be a distraction. Whether it is or not, we’ll just have to deal with it. It’s out of our control.”
The Bruins find themselves with some holes in the roster heading into camp, as defenseman Torey Krug and forward Reilly Smith — both unsigned restricted free agents — have yet to ink new deals with the team. Both played critical roles with the B's last season, but as of now, Julien said he is dealing with their absences the same way he would deal with the absence of an injured player.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen,” Julien said. “We’ll find out Thursday morning, but if they don’t [show up], then I’ve got to find some replacements, and we feel that we’ve got them at our camp. We’ll just move forward.”
Though Julien hopes to have all of his players back before the book closes on training camp, the absences of Smith and Krug — at least at the moment — create opportunities for the many players hoping to make an impact over the next couple of weeks.
“There’s going to be some openings there, and we feel we’ve got some people at our camp that can certainly fill those openings,” he said. “So it’s up to every one of them that has that chance to stick with the team to take advantage of it and have a good camp and force us to keep them.”
Roster holdouts heading into training camp are new territory for Julien. Over the course of his seven years in Boston, he has been fortunate to avoid such situations— but even so, he is not surprised that eventually, holdouts happened. That, he said, is the result when your team is built upon sustained success.
Still, as General Manager Peter Chiarelli told reporters on Sunday at the Rookie Tournament in Nashville, that leaves the Bruins with a difficult decision to make.
“You know what, when you have a certain amount of success, it’s because your players are doing well, and when players are doing well, eventually they get raises,” he said. “It was just a matter of time before we got into those situations, and right now, I think we’re still in a good position where we can just take a little bit of time.
“I’m sure that Peter mentioned to you guys a few days ago — he may have to make some tough decisions there in training camp, so we’ll have to wait and see. At the end of the day, I’ll have 20 to 23 players at my disposal, and I’m going to make sure they work to our advantage.”
The 2014-15 Bruins will also have to adjust to the departures of Jarome Iginla and Shawn Thornton, but given the team’s core of veteran leadership, Julien is not concerned about that.
“We’ve got a good core group of leaders, and there’s some opportunities for young guys — when I say young guys, they may not be as young anymore, but there’s some guys ready to step in there,” he said. “So I don’t see that as an issue. Jarome wasn’t there a year before last, and we were still good. Shawn’s a guy that’s going to move on and hopefully give Florida some leadership they need. So we’ve got some good guys in our room that — it’s not going to be an issue.”
In addition to younger hopefuls having a shot at making the Bruins’ opening day roster, there are some older, more experienced veterans who are in the mix for open spots as well. Specifically, camp invites Ville Leino and Simon Gagne have just as good a chance as anybody.
Leino has played in parts of six seasons for Detroit, Philadelphia and Buffalo, but has battled hip and rib injuries. Gagne has 13 years of NHL experience with Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and the L.A. Kings, but he did not play at all last season, instead opting to recover fully from injury in the hopes of eventually attracting an offer from an NHL team.
“We wouldn’t invite those guys just to fill in our training camp roster,” Julien said. “Older guys that have some experience — both of them are coming off injuries, major injuries. They both feel really good. Gagne didn’t play at all last year but trained a lot; he’s feeling the best he’s felt in a long time. And Leino’s the same way. Those guys have experience, so it’s an opportunity for those guys to seize some of those spots, if they want to, and then for the young guys to battle their way into it.
“You always have to have some youth in your lineup as well, so I think there’s room for both, whether it’s veterans or young guys.”
Despite the fact that there are some absences heading into camp — whether they be the result of holdouts or of free agency — Julien is focused on the players he does have at his disposal. And as far as he’s concerned, that core group of players the Bruins have assembled over the last several years — featuring the likes of Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Tuukka Rask, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci — leaves the B’s in a very good spot heading into 2014-15.
“The bigger the core group is, the better it is,” he said. “That’s where I think Peter has excelled, is that he’s managed to keep the big core group together, and right now, it’s just a matter of keeping that and moving forward. Who knows what’s going to happen? But right now, I still think we’re in good shape.”